Saturday, November 30, 2013

That's How I roll - Emergency Sub Plans

We're moving into flu and cold season and since I'm only a second year teacher my immune system of steel hasn't fully matured yet. Which reminds me, I really need to stop high fiving kindergarterners. Or start bathing in hand sanitizer if I don't want to get sick this winter.

No one likes to be out sick, especially teachers, the one profession where it takes more work to be out than to just come in feeling awful. I'm OCD about planning ahead so I always have my emergency sub plans done before the first day of school so that I can stay home without guilt when I need to. The problem of course is that while there are lots of subs out there willing to teach elementary school and there are some subs out there willing to teach Spanish, the pool grows much smaller when you try looking for someone who is willing to sub for elementary Spanish. And infinitesimally smaller when the elementary Spanish is also on a cart. Basically no one wants to be my sub. 

Okay that's not exactly true they do sometimes (rarely) give me their cards and ask that I add them to my preferred list but I don't always trust their "I can even speak some Spanish!"  So what's a sickly Spanish teacher to do?

Plans in English!

Yup, I'm sure that sounds like heresy but give me a chance. This year my students will be watching Brainpop videos on Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo, then they will discuss and write three facts that they learned about these artists, and then they draw a self-portrait in the styles of Picasso and Kahlo.  These plans work for me for the following reasons:

  1. Students are learning about famous people in the target culture in an in-depth manner I can't accomplish during our regular class time because I can't go that deep in 90% target language and due to other curriculum constrictions.
  2. The students like videos and they like to draw. When they are doing something they like they are less likely to behave badly for the sub.
  3. My art teacher loves me. I was out last month and a week later a student went up to her in class and asked if one of her posters was a Picasso. Then they listed his different periods, including the blue period, rose period and cubist period. She was blown away. 
  4. I can count this as both collaboration between Spanish and Art as well as towards our Arts and Humanities Program Review (you know what I'm talking about KY teachers!)
  5. I don't have to worry about Sally Substitute trying to teach the Spanish she learned in three semesters in college.
It's a win-win as far as I'm concerned. I have extra activities such as Picasso coloring sheets and a Create Your Own Cubist Portrait website but so far the subs haven't needed them (which is awesome because that can be the next sub plan if I have to miss another Day 3 in our rotation.)

So those are my emergency sub plans. What do you do when you have to be out unexpectedly?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

You know you're a FLES teacher when...

Since this week is a short one thanks to Thanksgiving I don't have a What's Working post. Instead I hope to entertain you with the following short list.

You know you're a FLES teacher when...

  • You come home with white board markers in your pockets and there are vocab cards in your purse.
  • People suspect you of being a hoarder because you save everything from your trips abroad to the target culture - receipts, bus tickets, grocery store ads, subway maps, brochures, business cards etc.
  • Kids come up to you in the grocery and say ¡Hola!
  • Your English is interspersed with the TL and you don´t notice.
  • Your English is interspersed with the TL and your family and friends no longer notice either.
  • You watch commercials on Univision/Telemundo and immediately start trying to find them on youtube. (They are never there!)
  • You sing songs like Los días de la semana or Los colores in the shower.
  • You can fit an entire classroom's worth of supplies on a cart or in a bag.
  • You have so many students that you start calling all the boys Carlos and all the girls Maria because that´s easier than memorizing 700 names.
  • The only person who knows where you are in the building is you. (And you only know because you have a triple color-coded schedule that you consult after each class.)
  • You get jealous that the Art & PE teachers always get cupcakes for student birthdays but you never seem to. (Probably because the students couldn't find you.)

Add to the list! Comment below or on twitter!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

That's How I Roll - back up plans

So technology is wonderful and most of the time helps my classes run smoothly. But then there are days there is no technology to be had. I ask that my teachers email me if they can remember to let me know if something isn't working so I can be prepared. Want to know how many actually do that?

One. Thank you Mrs. Casebolt!

The last two weeks I've walked into a third grade room only to be told the light on the projector is out so nothing computer related can be done. And then on top of that the speakers weren't working when I tried to plug in my iphone. And there's another teacher who likes to take her laptop home so when she's out I don't have anything connected to the SMART board (in this case I usually frantically unplug another teacher's laptop and plug it in but then I get to spend precious minutes of my lunch returning it and plugging it back in.)

So what to do when technology fails you? A reboot just leads to the same blank screen? The SMART board projector has gone dark? Take a few deep breaths, give the kids a quick task to practice their conversation in Spanish, and quickly devise a new plan.

One of the few good things about being on a cart (and there are only a few) is that if the problem is isolated to one computer or SMART board you only have to deal with it for 30 minutes and then you're onto the next room. But it's still always a good idea to have a back up plan just in case.
  • Teach new vocabulary with picture cards, gestures or your awesome art skills on the whiteboard. Have students brainstorm with you the best gesture for a new word.Or take a screen shot of your prezi or print out your power point slides and keep extra copies just in case you need to pass them out.
  • Keep a stock of vocabulary cards to be used in impromptu games - manos rápidos, Go Fish, I have/I need, Spoons, Four Corners, Concentration. No cards? Students can race to play Pictionary on the board. Board races that work like Scattergories where students race to fill in words based on a category are a favorite with my students. Or play I Spy With My Little Eye. 
  • Have students line up or stand in a circle. They practice their conversation with the person standing across from them. After a certain time one line or circle moves and they speak with a new person. 
  • Fast Finisher Folder stocked with worksheets, word searches and word scrambles. 
  •  I keep a CD and DVD of my songs on the cart if I can't pull them up on youtube. I also have songs loaded on my phone so all I have to do is plug into speakers.
These of course are all options during your regular class time as well. But it's good to keep them in mind when you realize that awesome youtube video you were planning on using that day isn't available. Or you're starting a new unit and you have a lot of new vocab to teach and no pictures to teach them with. Sometimes I feel that teaching is very similar to doing improv. You got to take the scenario you're given and roll with it. You can always circle back to your original plan later when the technology is working.

What are some of your go-to activities when your technology isn't working?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What's working - Basho & Friends

So what's working in my classes this week?

I've been teaching your standard ¿Cómo te llamas?/Me llamo _____ lesson to my students in the third grade. They have studied this before so the Me llamo part hasn't been too hard but I'm trying to get them to feel more comfortable asking questions in Spanish this year so I've been focusing on the ¿Cómo te llamas? part of the conversation but how to do that?

The solution?

Basho & Friends! If you haven't checked out these great and catchy songs then you need to pronto. For $0.99 I bought the ¿Cómo te llamas? song and loaded it onto my iphone so I can plug into the speakers in each classroom. The song is super upbeat and the kids clap their hands, tap their feet and beat on the table (I only let them do that last part as long as it doesn't get too too loud.) The part of the song where they sing the names of the different people we sing over it and put in our names instead, chanting Me llamo ______. Each table of 4 students gets a chance to say their name during the verse. The next two verses are  ¿Cómo te sientes? and ¿Dónde vives? so I just turn the music down a bit and we continue to sing ¿Cómo te llamas? over it. (We'll add those parts later in the year.)

The best part? They sing the question ¿Cómo te llamas? about 80 gazillion times and love it. After some practice without the music we sang it again and I pointed to each table and they "performed" the Me llamo portion for the rest of the class.

Now this gets loud and rowdy very quickly so I've been telling classes that if they get 5 smiley faces (part of my Whole Brain Teaching behavior management system) then they can have a dance party. This ensures that they will get quiet quickly in between and listen to directions. The dance party consists of the same song but when the music stops they have to stop, find a partner and high five them, then ask and answer ¿Cómo te llamas?

In the next class we did the same thing but I changed it up during our dance party. Each student got a card with a cartoon character. They had to introduce themselves as that person rather than their own names then they switched cards. They loved saying "Me llamo Spiderman" and "Me llamo Tinker Bell." We will finish up next week by making a page to put in our books "Todo Sobre Mí" listening to our new favorite Basho & Friends song while we work.

What's working in your classes this week? How do you teach questions and introductions? Leave a comment below!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

That's How I Roll - Technology

I'm not super tech savvy but I'm neither am I a dunce. What I do know is that when you're on a cart you want to use the technology you have available as much as possible. I'm super lucky that every classroom in our building has a SMART board.  If there is something I can pull up on the SMART board then that is one less thing I have to pack on my cart.

My routine when I come into a room looks something like this - I roll in, students are either quiet and waiting (thank you awesome classroom teachers!) or still in the middle of math or some other activity and are frantically trying to transition to Spanish. I walk over to the teacher's laptop, hope it's turned on and they are logged on, pull up my account on, youtube, or game site we will be using that day. Turn on the SMART board, give my quiet signal and get started.

The power of technology!

There are a million sites out there that can you can use in your class but here are a few that I find helpful. Most of them I would use even if I wasn't on a cart but I find myself relying on them even more since I do travel.

  • Prezi - this is a fantastic site that offers free use for teachers. Think of it as powerpoint on steroids. I build a prezi presentation for every new unit. I use pictures to teach vocabulary. I include the Unit Objectives so every time I log on students can see their I can statements. I embed youtube videos for listening practice. I include instructions and rubrics for activities that we will complete. For my School Supplies Unit I even had authentic resources (school supply lists from Mexico) in the Prezi that we read together. Students came to the front and circled with the SMART board markers the items that we also used in our school. During other activities like games and partner work the pictures on the SMART board function as a word wall.
  •  Youtube -  I created my own youtube channel specifically for my students and then created video playlists arranged by topic.  Students can review the videos we've watched in class at home or in their free computer time at school or preview videos we will watch later.  If we are doing independent work I will often turn on the video playlist related to our unit so Students have background music to  listen to. More than once they have been working and singing along to a song in Spanish.
  • Victoria Languages Online  - This Australian site has free resources for multiple languages, including worksheets, posters and interactive games that are great for a SMART board.
  •  SMART exchange - I don't use this one in class per say but I do pull games off here to use in class. In this case I save it to my school's network drive so I can pull it up on any computer. Or if I save it to a thumb drive I appoint a student to make sure I don't forget it when I leave the room.

What are some of the sites that are invaluable to you?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

That's How I Roll - Organization

I envy those of you out there with a classroom. You have walls to hang up lots of comprehensible input. You can arrange the desks and chairs the way you want them (and move problem students away from each other.)  You can sit down in the few minutes between classes. And most importantly, you have a space to call your own.

Then there are the nomads, like me. We're in a different room from hour to hour, scurrying to and fro in the five minutes between classes. Teaching on a cart is a special challenge in any subject but in world language where the idea is to immerse students in the target language and culture for the short time you have them it is especially difficult. But there are a few things you can do to make your life easier and to give your instruction more impact.

Organization is KEY! 

There's nothing worse than getting to class and realizing that the activity you were going to do that day is back in your office. Or worse yet in another class (and you better hope you can remember which one!)

  • Bins, bags and folders are all great ways to keep your things organized. I personally use a lot of the same things from grade level to grade level and class to class so I like to pack my cart with bins. But I've heard of people who use bags with everything they need - picture cards, puppets, game pieces etc. - for a certain grade. They just grab that bag and go. 

  • Manila folders organized by grade level and by day (we are on a 6 day rotation) stored on top in a upright folder holder helps me keep student work organized. I only keep the folders for that day's classes on the cart. The rest stay in my office. 

  • Make the most of your cart with magnets and velcro. Space is a premium so don't let any go unused. I used to have a metal book cart from the library. With magnets I could roll around with posters, our monthly calendar, and a binder ring that held my rules attached to the side of my cart. I velcroed a whiteboard/large post-it note combo on the back where I wrote my daily objectives. As soon as I rolled in, students could see what we would be working on that day.  Now that I'm on a larger cart I have my objectives in a pocket chart - I pull them out and magnet them to my whiteboard based on what grade I'm teaching.

  • Get creative! Silly even! My cart even has eyes, a mouth and a speech bubble introducing herself as Sra. Speedy. Sometimes my kindergarteners greet the cart in the hall before they greet me.

  • Check and double check you have everything you need because once you're on the go it's hard to look back. I like to pack my cart at the end of the day for the next one and then check it again in the morning. I still occasionally have to send my students out of the room to retrieve things for me but not very often.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Projects - Books as Bridges

I've been looking for ways to connect with classrooms in my target language classrooms and have struggled to find a way to do it easily with my students' novice low-mid Spanish level and coordinate it for as many students as I have (670+).  A solution finally presented itself with the Books as Bridges program.

Books as Bridges

Books as Bridges a local program that is part of the larger non-profit the International Book Project that sends books to developing countries. In the Books as Bridges program students write three letters to pen pals in a developing country, send a cultural package about what life is like here in Kentucky and they do a community service project somehow related to their pen pals. That all sounded awesome to me so I talked to our fifth grade team and they were also interested so I signed us up.

To make this relevant to our Spanish study we requested a partner classroom in South America that was studying English. The immersion school in our county has participated before in the past with other elementary schools in Latin America but I felt that my students' level of Spanish wasn't really at a point where we could be writing letters completely in the target language. But if we could write a small introduction in Spanish and then finish our letters in English that could work. A partner classroom that was learning English could do the same thing but in reverse - intro in English, rest of the letter in Spanish. My students are much better at reading and negotiating meaning than they are at producing now. Anything they couldn't figure out I could translate for them.

They told us that they had done that before so it shouldn't be a problem. However, apparently it's taking longer than usual. We got a late start anyway because I didn't find out about the program until past the official application date but they let us in. Now the contacts in Ecuador are being slow to answer emails. The back-up plan will be a partner classroom in Africa, which while it will still be cool to have pen pals and do a service learning project it will negate the whole reason I'm running it.

In the meantime we had a pen pal prep session and all the students are excited. Hope they let us know soon about our partner classroom so I have answers for my students who are beginning to pepper me with questions every time they see me. Fingers crossed!

Check out the International Book Project and Books as Bridges.